By: Greg Pak (story), Aaron Kuder (art), June Chung (colors)

The Story: Superman, this is no time to play fetch with the rampaging monster!

The Review: Last month I expressed bafflement over what I took to be a back-up feature in Pak’s debut issue on Action Comics.  Now that I see that little ditty was just the springboard for his first true arc, I don’t know whether I should be feeling chagrin, embarrassment, or validation over my earlier remarks.  While the folks who caught #25 will be glad to get right into the action, those who skipped it will have missed out on some important logistical groundwork.

Not that important, though, which makes you think the only reason Pak put his prologue in #25 was to get some additional breathing space here.  The trade-off pays off, as Pak delivers a tale of heartfelt action-adventure worthy of our star.  While the issue starts off in typically superhero fashion—Superman warding off a giant underground cave monster—it quickly takes on shades of light comedy, human drama, and sci-fi reminiscent of All-Star Superman.  Weirdly enough, it feels more like All-Star Superman than even Grant Morrison’s beginning run on this series.

Part of this is Pak’s strong grasp of the characters, specifically our two leads.  Clark and Lana boast contemporary voices, but their values, personalities, and chemistry are classically homespun.  With Clark’s parents out of the picture, Lana is (so far) the only remaining person who knew Superman before he put on the cape, even before he put on the T-shirt.  Others may marvel at his stature, but she sees him as “my high school prom date,” the boy who still goes out of his way to impress her, sometimes to his her exasperation and his own embarrassment.  “Hey!” she yells as Clark readies an ill-chosen projectile at the monster, “That’s my truck!

“Aw, man,” he thinks.

You start to wonder, given how easygoing and affectionate they still are, why things didn’t work out—why it’s destined to never work out—and Pak offers a hint of an answer in Lana’s quick-change from complete trust (“Look, if [saving that monster is] what Superman wants to do, that’s good enough for me!”) to all-too-human doubt (“Superman! You’ve got to stop it!”).  When the ordeal is all over, there is a noticeable distance between them, the same that Superman maintains with almost everyone else in costume, and she realizes, “I just failed you, didn’t I?”

More important than Lana’s perceived shortcomings is what the scene says about Clark’s capacity for compassion, a trait lately overshadowed by his new edginess post-relaunch.  His pity and affection for the monster is exactly what you expect from Superman, and better still, rooted in his upbringing by the Kents.  Here again, Pak tweaks with the traditional Superman mythos, bringing Jonathan Kent down from the saintly perch he stood on for generations.  Clark recounts a day when his boyhood powers flamed out of control, and the sight of the ensuing devastation made his father hesitate before running to him.  This is a more humanized, anxious Jonathan Kent that Pak’s portraying, but one no less virtuous, for Clark remembers, “But my dad started walking again that day.  And while the fields burned, he sat right down next to me.  He was terrified.  But he was there for me.”

And when Clark follows up by promising his own loyalty to the misunderstood monster he secretly saved from destruction, that’s the moment when you feel like this is the Superman you’ve been missing on this title all along.  Overall, this is just the kind of Superman story you’ve been missing all along.  Pak evokes a sense of wonder, particularly on that last-page twist, that leaves you less cerebrally stimulated than Morrison’s work or Scott Snyder’s philosophical musings on Superman Unchained, but just as eager for the next issue.

Contributing to the All-Star Superman vibe of the issue is the touch of Frank Quitely that Kuder brings to certain key scenes.  If you look at Kuder’s settings for Smallville or the interior of the Fortress of Solitude, there’s an elegant use of negative space that is definitely Quitely-esque, conveying that larger-than-life scale that suits Superman so well.  His details are superb, too; check out the other creatures Superman’s got in his Fortress menagerie: a massive purple fish, a pair of gryphons, birds perched on a floating, alien tree.  And given the familiar, glowing teals and aquamarines washing over the menagerie, it seems Chung was inspired by All-Star as well.

Conclusion: There may be more ambitious Superman stories elsewhere, but the character’s output will have a whole lot more integrity if issues like this one became the textbook example of a Superman story for our times.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I have to say, seeing that monster chomp on Clark out of midair, then gnaw on him while shaking its head like a dog, is probably one of the cooler scenes I’ve seen in a while.  Also, when it scampers off to fetch the truck…it’s pretty darn adorable.